By now you've all seen the unofficial demise of the Rick Perry Express to the White House, a juggernaut of a campaign that met its end during the nationally televised GOP primary debate on November 9.
Two things about this are amazing. One is that in the pantheon of Texas governors, Perry will manage to be remembered as "the dumb one." The second is that I feel slightly bad for Rick Perry.
If there is a technical term for what happened to Perry during this debate, I don't know what it is. I do know that it happens to me all the damn time. I get paid to stand in front of large groups of people and talk every day, and then I do it again in the evening for fun. Regardless of my level of preparation, the use of notes, or experience with the material, I still encounter these Perry moments regularly. Sometimes you just…go blank. It happens. Unless you're lying or happen to be having such a moment right now, you'll admit that it happens to you too.
Yes, I got plenty of laughs out of seeing this and exploited it for more than its fair share of jokes over the past few days. That said, this is a better indicator of how poisonous the modern media environment has become than of Perry's lack of suitability for the presidency. There are dozens if not hundreds of reasons that Rick Perry should never enter the White House without a ticket for the sightseeing tour in his hand; this is not necessarily one of them. Yet it took this – something he forgot rather than any of the ridiculous shit he actually said – to knock him from the rank of Serious Candidate.
To understand what is happening to Perry is to make sense of the millions of dollars campaigns spend on image control. You can campaign on the most idiotic ideas on Earth and the Beltway media will take you seriously if you have enough money, but god forbid you do something that lands you in a viral video clip. Then you're radioactive. Ask George "Macaca" Allen or Howard Dean and they'll tell you how an entire campaign can be derailed by a 15 second YouTube clip. The key, as many campaigns have figured out, is to spout whatever brand of insanity most pleases one's targeted donors and to "look presidential" while doing it. Be crazy, be an idiot, or be downright scary. Just don't look silly while you're doing it.
I would love to look back at 2012 as the election in which Rick Perry was soundly rejected by voters because he has been a disaster as Governor of Texas, he seems to consider nullification and secession to be intriguing concepts, and he is the worst kind of right-wing populist loon. Instead we'll note that he was the updated version of Howard Dean, the guy whose campaign ended when he made himself look stupid for a moment on camera. It's a sad commentary on both our media and the electorate that Perry was taken seriously when he proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, and given the gong only after he forgot its name.